Thursday, January 19, 2012

The problem with academic journals 3

I've tried to stay away from politics on this blog, as I want to keep it as professional as I can, and politics is one of the two things (along with religion) guaranteed to make otherwise pleasant and rational people lose all self control. But sometimes, politics intrudes into the academy: as Pericles put it "Just because you do not take an interest in politics does not mean politics won't take an interest in you".

I've discussed the problems with academic journals twice before. What has prompted me to revisit the topic, and break my taboo on politics on this blog, is the Research Works Act, which is nothing less than a direct assault by the US government on open access journals. Not that the US government per se has anything against open access journals: journal publishers like Elsevier do, though, so what they've done is whack down a sack of cash in front of their tame congress members and bought a law. This law, if passed, would ban US government funding agencies from requiring that papers resulting from their funding be made available as open access publications. This has caused a firestorm in the academic blogosphere, with calls for scholarly societies to withdraw from the American Association of Publishers (one of the groups lobbying in favour of the law), and with some even going so far as to call academic publishers enemies of science.

I have published in open-access journals. I'm even on the editorial board of one, and I find this law extremely disturbing. It is in direct contrast to other countries such as the UK, where a new policy from the science minister requires the results of publicly funded research to be open-access. It is simply a desperate attempt by the established journal publishers to protect a business model that is going the way of horse-drawn carriages and rotary-dial telephones.

Although one could argue that, as a New Zealand citizen resident in Australia, this will not really effect me, the USA has a habit of forcing it's laws on other countries. How long before other countries, like Australia or New Zealand, get similar laws? Even if this proposed law is defeated in the USA, does anyone seriously think that the publishers will give up trying to kill open access journals?

Open access is the future of academic publishing. Publishers are trying to protect a failing business model by exploiting a political system that seems, to someone raised in a Westminster-style democracy, quite corrupt. Since we have no chance of changing that system, the only response open to scientists is to move away from publishing in the journals published by companies like Elsevier, and publish instead in open-access journals. In other words, cut the journal publishers out completely and starve them of the quality papers they need to be successful.

Over the next several weeks, I will be collating a list of open-access computational intelligence journals, and reviewing a selection of papers from each. It's time to take open-access seriously. It's time to embrace the future, and to leave the old publishers in the dustbin of history.